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Monitoring & outcomes

Why internal data is just as important for governing boards as it has always been


From speaking to governors and trustees up and down the country, NGA has heard confused messages regarding the use of internal data in schools; with many pointing to the new Ofsted framework to argue that governing boards no longer need to be receiving this type of information.

This is concerning and potentially damages the ability of governing boards to exercise their core duties effectively. NGA has spoken at length about the importance of using a variety of sources of information to know schools well. Internal progress and attainment data remain a critical source of information for governing boards to do this effectively.

A point of clarity

Firstly, there is some confusion over exactly what data Ofsted inspectors will no longer request. Ofsted will still want data on exclusions and absence rates from schools and will remain interested in externally validated data. This covers any dataset based on an external assessment, such as phonics tests, SATs or GCSEs. This includes Analyse School Performance (ASP) and the school performance tables.

Ofsted will have access to the same information in all these sources through its Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR). Inspectors will be sure to look at the IDSR before visiting a school and governors and trustees can download their schools’ IDSR through ASP.

The Ofsted approach and rationale

What Ofsted will not look at is data generated by the school relating to progress and attainment. Ofsted do not look at this because there is no way for inspectors to know if the information presented to them accurately reflects the school.

This is a sensible approach from Ofsted. An inspection team is only in a school for two days maximum and spends only a proportion of this time looking at the quality of education.

For them to then triangulate what they have seen in their inspection activity with school’s internal data would be resource intensive, politically insensitive and methodologically risky.

Inspectors are on an extremely tight schedule and lack the time to pore over internal data and compare it to their own findings. In line with the government’s teacher workload agenda, Ofsted is further conscious of the need to break the cycle of “data generation for the sake of Ofsted”. NGA also support the government’s initiative and recommendations to reduce teacher workload and have been in ongoing talks with the department for education (DfE) over what internal data those governing need to complete their duties.

But the crux of the matter is that Ofsted only look in depth at between four to six subjects in an inspection. They are not in school long enough to spot trends and cannot comment on progress and attainment in subjects that they have not observed. Using internal data would be relying on another individual’s interpretation of pupil outcomes; it would, in other words, be a complete leap of faith.

Using the new deep-dive methodology, inspectors will use the inspection data summary report, lesson observations, book scrutinies, discussions with curriculum leaders and discussions with pupils to make a judgement on the systemic issues across a school based solely on their own observations.

Governance and internal progress and attainment data

Ofsted’s decision to not look at internal progress and attainment data is based on their own needs and chosen inspection approach. This is a long way from, as some commentators have suggested, schools no longer being expected to collect internal data.

In fact, in her speech to the 2019 NGA national conference, Amanda Spielman, her majesty’s chief inspector, said that, while any data must be collected proportionately, efficiently and sustainably, Ofsted were “certainly not prohibiting the use of data”. She also said that “schools can still collect and use assessment information … but it should be done for its value for education, not done for Ofsted”.

Governing boards are not Ofsted. They have different resources at their disposal which make internal data extremely relevant. Unlike inspectors, governors and trustees are not expected to be experts in teaching and learning and would be overstepping the mark carrying out lesson observations and book scrutinies. They therefore need to rely on the judgement of the professionals more so than Ofsted when it comes to the quality of learning in the classroom.

Yet governors and trustees also have resources not available to inspectors to enable them to be much more confident about the accuracy of professional judgments. Governing boards have the capacity for in-depth conversations about how pupil attainment and progress is measured and can obtain a good understanding of the accuracy of data systems by virtue of numerous school visits, established relationships with school staff, and through speaking with leaders, pupils and other stakeholders over a sustained period.

Beyond having different resources, those governing also have very different needs. Governing boards need to know their school(s) but in no way should they do what they do to please inspectors. While Ofsted is important for governing boards, the inspection process should not drive the agenda and activities of those governing. While Ofsted are interested in a “snap-shot” of education in a school over a two-day period, those governing are in it for the long game and the work of the board stretches far beyond inspection.

A huge part of the governing boards role is monitoring progress toward strategic targets. Some of these targets, particularly for pupil outcomes, rely on an understanding of progress and attainment for large groups of pupils. The sheer size of some of these cohorts means that it would be impossible to monitor progress toward these targets without the use of internal data.


The key takeaway here is that the needs and resources of Ofsted are different to those of governing boards and, ultimately, internal progress and attainment data remains as relevant to effective strategy as it always has in a school setting. If you would like more information on using data in your school, please visit the NGA Knowledge Centre.